“Addictivity” refers to being in the process of addiction. “Addiction” includes any compulsive habit intended to make us feel better that in the end makes things worse. Most of us are addicts to some degree. Most of us have experienced compulsive aversion and desire without a sense of freedom to do what is best for everyone. Addictions lie on wide spectrums of types and severity. Addictions are “solutions that almost work,” that in the end make things worse. In every instance, the problem springs from our instinctive drive to pursue pleasure and push away pain. While this is natural and often appropriate, there are instances where feeling better conflicts with what is true, right, and good for everyone. When we choose to feel better now without regard for what is best in the long run, we enter the realm of addiction.
As well as addictions may seem to work to ease our pain, they also hijack our lives and weaken our capacity to grow in all ways—emotionally, interpersonally, occupationally, and spiritually—so that we can no longer realize peace, joy, happiness, fulfillment, and serenity. Addictivity shuts us off from the healthy connection, love, and support that would otherwise sustain us if it were not for our addictive brains. To fall prey to our addictive obsessions while sacrificing connection, communion, and love only drives us deeper into alienation. Addictions rob us of our freedom and damages our lives. They create a deep well of shame and remorse, grief, and regret. They give back ten times more pain in exchange for the pain they temporarily take away. They not only destroy the addict’s life, they also poison the lives of all those around them, and ultimately, like a cancer, invade and weaken the entire world. The person lured into addictivity to relieve his or her suffering only finds his or her suffering multiplied. When we become slaves to our compulsive brains, automatically clinging to whatever will give us temporary relief, we are not free to choose what is truly right and good for everyone.
While we all recognize substance addictions such as alcoholism, people disagree about what are addictive behaviors. Many of us have one or more “bad habits,” or repetitive compulsive behaviors, that do more harm than good. To the degree that a compulsive behavior is an attempt to reduce distress or satisfy a desire, involves a loss of control and persists despite destructive consequences, then indeed these compulsive behaviors can be thought of as behavioral addictions. Various addictive behaviors include:
- Excessive shopping/spending
- Overeating (including compulsive sugar consumption)
- Compulsive and harmful sexual behaviors
- Compulsive “Teching”: excessive Internet use, smart phone use, video game use
- Excessive passivity, such as excessive television use
- Excessive exercise
- Excessive work
- Compulsive and destructive interpersonal behaviors, such as judging others, purposefully hurting others, gossiping, needing to be right, compulsive talking, compulsive lying, isolation, inauthenticity, needing to please, and many others.
- Self-injurious behaviors such as cutting or burning
- Compulsively engaging in harmful relationships
Addictivity can be thought of as a form of ego dysfunction. We all possess instinctive drives for food, water, safety, belonging, comfort, affection, and power. The ego works to satisfy these drives. Addictivity arises from the ego’s mismanagement of pain, inadequacy, lack, loneliness, or threat, which manifest as greed, a lust for power and control, anger, and fear. In addictivity, our egos are using us, rather than us intelligently using our egos. In severe addictivity we become self-centered and destructive, eliminating any chance for authentic happiness and fulfillment. It takes psychological and spiritual growth to eventually see and transcend these fear-based drives and act out of love so that we are managing our minds, rather than our minds managing us.
Addiction is a complex illness with multiple contributing factors, including genetic vulnerability, psychological factors such as mental illness, trauma, and neglect, social factors such as enabling or scapegoating behaviors of family members and malicious or benign peer influences, and cultural influences that may consider certain addictive behaviors as normal. There are also existential or spiritual factors, such as the degree to which we experience meaning and purpose, or the degree to which we feel connected to something greater than ourselves and accept disease, limitations, imperfection, lack of control, and mortality.
Recovery is a process of resolving addictivity. It is a healing, or taming, of the ego. In recovery, we learn to do the next right thing moment to moment regardless of the urges we may feel for immediate gratification/relief. We see and commit ourselves to do what is good for everyone. Over time, with persistent effort, we come to experience love, connection, faith, and acceptance of all of our experiences, and of the unseen perfection of this perfectly imperfect Universe. We experience peace and freedom.